Yet Another Sunday Doze At The Theatre Of Dreams

Last updated : 15 April 2003 By Bernard Azulay

Yet as far as I am concerned whether we came into this game with a comfortable five point lead, or find ourselves facing a potential climax, in a neck and neck duel to the Premiership death, I have never been in any doubt that this would be the day for one of these two teams to confirm their true Championship credentials.

A draw will be very unsatisfying and could leave matters in abeyance until the very last week, when the Arsenal's attempt at an historic feat might rest on defeating Southampton twice in ten days. However from a detached point of view, after losing to Utd earlier in the season it has been my contention for many months that if we don't win tonight, we won't deserve to retain our crown. Mind you my theory doesn't take into account the possibility of fate and the preposterous hand of officialdom playing their part in proceedings. Especially on a night when both teams will be walking a tightrope of tension and holding ones nerve and ones temper is bound to be equally important as hanging on to the ball.

Moreover though I am sure I will be groaning about any perceived injustice as loud as the next Gooner, we will have little cause to complain if Miss Fortune goes missing, after Lady Luck lent us such an advantageous hand on Sunday (an amusing intervention on account of the irony that Graham Poll would top most Gooners list to be lined up against the wall, come the revolution!). Poll is the obvious target for the Blades' bitterness, but he is no less guilty than the sensationally safe hands of David Seaman and his match winning save of the season.

Based on United's stunning performance on Saturday, they don't exactly look in need of any additional help at Highbury. I quite fancied that Newcastle might be the perfect opponents to do us a favour, after watching their fluid passing performance at Goodison Park the previous week. Yet another early kick-off had escaped my attention and it was only when I phoned a pal to find out if the match was being televised that I discovered the Toons had taken the lead. I was a little bit previous in trumpeting my prophetic skills for no sooner had I switched over to savour this setback for Utd, than the buggers went and buried three at the other end. I initially blamed myself but I am sufficient a realist to know that this had less to do with what buttons I pressed on my remote and more to do with Paul Scholes playing with a freedom rarely seen this season (not to mention Newcastle's somewhat naive defence). It made for extremely painful viewing, watching Utd plug away at our superior goal difference, one by one and it certainly wasn't the sort of start to the weekend we were hoping for.

I am sure it was the subject of conversation of most of the thirty thousand Gooners who clambered into their cars at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning. About 3,000 of us suckers for punishment were making our third long schlep to Old Trafford this season! Talk about the proverbial piss up in a brewery, what possible sense could there have been in selecting a semifinal venue which precluded a single Arsenal fan from travelling by public transport? At least the sun was shining as we set out for yet another stint of motorway monotony and there was plenty of comfort in seeing the colours flying from almost every car we passed, in a cavalcade of Gooner nutters all pursuing our double Double quest.

Surely the coverage of the London Marathon must be the least enthralling radio event of the year but if the two snoozers in the back of the car were bored, they certainly perked up when the Gooner Gal beside me produced the biggest banana any of us had ever seen. Watched eagerly by these two teasers, with their lewd running commentary, I struggled to keep my eyes on the road as she devoured her petit-dejeuner with Gooner pleasing gusto. Little did any of us realize that in entertainment terms this was almost the climax of our entire outing. Considering how much mileage we made of our top banana tail, we motored into Manchester with more than two hours to spare, along with 60,000 others, who all attempted to pre-empt the usual problems on the roads.

With few attractions in the middle of Manchester on a Sunday morn, most just milled about the Old Trafford environs. Unable to get within a mile of Lou Macari's famous fish and chipper, we were left with little choice but to fill our hungry bellies with the salmonella offered in various bland disguises by the stalls, coining it in around the soulless trading estate that is Trafford Park. It wasn't until we stood queuing for our grub that I realized the only atmosphere in the air was the persistent honking of the horn sellers, plying their ear piercing wares. Deprived of our Sunday lie-ins, dragging ourselves out of our pits at such an ungodly hour for our 3rd successive Old Trafford semi, we were bound to be somewhat blasé about the whole affair but I expected the Blades fans to be a bit more enthusiastic.

We whiled away some of the time trying to number the different sponsors names on the red and white striped replica shirts. I was eventually grateful to be serenaded by a couple of gangs of Northerners singing their "Fill Up My Senses" anthem. It has to be one of the best football songs going. If it wasn't for this timely reminder, I might just as easily imagined I was at the Ideal Home Exhibition as at as semifinal of football's greatest Cup competition. I don't think I have ever arrived so early for a football match, but at least I had an excuse to get into the ground soon after the gates opened. Armed with a few of the sheets of 20,000 stickers prepared by one particular Gooner prankster, I spent my time gainfully employed in placing a printed reminder on the seats of our friends from the North, that we had been sitting in the "AFC Champions Section - Extended Area". I hope that I was sufficiently surreptitious for some of them to survive, only to be seen when they sit down Wednesday week?

We can't afford to fail tonight, or the joke might be on us but when the chips are down and before the millions watching worldwide, I fancy we can raise our game to the sublime level that is within this side's grasp. Most Gooners can confirm that there's been little evidence of this in recent weeks, but then many of them were either queuing for, or to relieve themselves of refreshments at half-time on Sunday. Sadly they will have missed the best ball skills of the day as Thierry Henry and Gilberto played keepy-uppy on the pitch during the break. Watching through my binoculars, I witnessed a display that was worth the £40 price of admission alone. The Harlem Globetrotters have nothing on Henry and if he has saved half of what I saw for his end of season finale then Paddy Power will be rubbing his hands with glee along with every Gooner!